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Howard Zinn

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1. Precipitate Withdrawal, paragraph 1
December 25, 2006, 9:48 pm

First, the very use of the word “precipitate” is a way of ending the discussion before it begins, by defining withdrawal as foolish, or in the synonyms given by my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary “lack of forethought, rashness”. By talking of “a premature American departure, again the coupling of “premature” with withdrawal closes out a discussion. The idea that withdrawing from Iraq after four years of violent occupation is “premature” is almost laughable.

The usual argument is made here of withdrawal leading to “greater sectarian violence and further detetioration of conditions”, which by this very language of comparison tells us that our four years of occupation have brought violence and deterioration. The claim that withdrawal of U.S. troops would lead to more violence assumes that the presence of these troops is inhibiting violence. There is no evidence of that at all. Polls among the Iraqi people show that strong majorities favor U.S. withdrawal, and indeed that most Iraqis believe there will be less internal conflict after the U.S. withdraws. I assume they are in a better position to judge that situation than all the U.S. pundits raising alarms about the consequences of withdrawal.

Granted that the violence and chaos now plaguing Iraq will not end when U.S. troops leave, we would have to also say that at some future date when the withdrawal will inevitably take place, there is no guarantee that Iran will be free of violence. And in those years of delay, how many tens of thousands, Americans and Iraqis, will die?

Furthermore, is not much of the mayhem in Iraq provoked by the U.S. presence, and might therefore decrease with our withdrawal?

The weak criticism of the Bush policy that we find in the Iraq Study Group Report, not forthright enough to bring about a change in policy, reminds us of the criticism of our Vietnam policy, made by “liberal” political figures, which, by foreclosing the idea of withdrawal from Vietnam, helped keep the war going and the casualties piling up for years. In early 1966, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by William Fulbright, held hearings on our Vietnam policy. They showed the same caution, even from critics of the war, that we saw in this Report. George Kennan, for instance, told the Committee that “a precipitate, sudden, and unilteral withdrawal would not be warranted by circumstances now.”

And Senator Frank Church, another critic of the war, said “I do not know any one around this table, certainly no member of the Foreign Relations Committee, that has advocated a withdrawal….” With such timidity, coming from avowed critics of the war, it is not surprising that the U.S. occupation of Vietnam went on from seven more years, costing perhaps 40,000 U.S. lives and at least a million Vietnamese lives. This recollection should sober us before we rush into gratitude for the ambiguous, confused and ultimately cowardly recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.